‘I will never be the Helene Campbell that I was,’ transplant recipient says
Ten months after undergoing a double-lung transplant, Ottawa-area native Helene Campbell says she’s feeling great.
“I’m well, I’m doing well,” she told Canada AM Thursday. “I had my nine-month assessment a couple of weeks ago and so far, no rejection, no infection. So that’s great news.”
Campbell received a double lung transplant last April after a condition called advanced idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis began to destroy her lungs in the fall of 2011. Though the surgery went well, she suffered a few serious setbacks during her recovery. Now, almost a year later, her health is good and she’s feeling energized.
“I have 73 per cent lung capacity, so it’s gone up quite a bit,” she says.
Campbell still takes anti-rejection medications to stop her body from mounting an attack on her donor lungs, and she'll continue to need them for the rest of her life. Because the drugs dampen her immune system, Campbell says she has to be vigilant about hygiene at all times.
“Giving hugs is something I love to do, and shaking hands. But I’ve developed this new thing I love to do now where instead of a fist bump, I’ll do an elbow bump,” she says.
Just as she did before her surgery, Campbell continues to advocate for organ donation, working to spread awareness through social media about the need for organ and tissue donation. Last fall, she helped Facebook launch an organ donation tool in Canada that allows users to share their organ donor status.
Though Campbell garnered international attention from the likes of TV host DeGeneres and pop idol Justin Bieber during her search for a donor, she insists her brush with celebrity hasn’t changed her much.
“I’ve stayed and been myself throughout this entire journey,” she says. “Some weeks, I’m extremely busy with media and things like that, and other weeks I’m extremely busy with health appointments, because we do have a lot of follow-ups.”
Throughout her ordeal, Campbell says it’s her family who has helped keep her strength up.
“They’ve been through so much too. This illness doesn’t just affect you; it affects everyone around you. To see the strength of my family and loved one, it’s brought us so much closer,” she says.
Though Campbell knows she likely will never be able to do all the activities she used to, she’s just grateful for what she can do.
“I will never be the Helene Campbell that I was; that’s just the reality of my situation. I’m now Helene Campbell with these amazing new lungs from a donor family that I’m so grateful to and that I honour every day. It’s just a blessing to be alive.
Garry Keller knows that feeling too.
Keller, the chief of staff to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, underwent a kidney transplant this past summer. He appeared on Canada AM last May to promote organ donor awareness. One week after the broadcast, he got the call that a match for him had been found.
“It was almost surreal but euphoric in nature,” he said Thursday from Ottawa. “I can’t describe the feeling of how happy I was and how I blessed I was to receive the gift from a living donor.”
He says he too is careful about his hygiene, washing his hands after every headshake with the hand sanitizer he keep with him wherever he goes.
Keller says one of the advantages he’s had is that his work has allowed him to keep the discussion about organ donation going.
“Organ donation is not an easy conversation to have with your family and loved ones. But it’s a conversation people do need to have,” he says.
Keller has returned to his work on Parliament Hill but says he feels nothing but gratitude for his new lease on life.
“I thank God every day for the gift that I received from my donor and my family,” he says. “It’s just such a great feeling.”